The Sony NSZ-GS7 is Sony’s latest Google TV device. Sony’s initial release wasn’t a huge hit in 2010, and Logitech‘s was such a flop that Logitech left the Google TV market completely. A lot of that wasn’t Sony or Logitech’s fault. A lot of that was simply that the immature Google TV platform wasn’t developed quickly enough and was met with open hostility by TV networks and cable companies who fear the inevitable conversion of TV watchers from cable and over the air programming to just watching the Internet, a behavior known as cord-cutting.
Let’s get one thing out of the way. The Google TV isn’t a cord-cutting device. You can use it if you don’t have a TV signal, but you’re going to miss half the features. Google TV is designed as a companion device that makes your dumb TV a little smarter. It’s a bridge for you until we figure out a better platform for watching TV without the pesky cable middlemen. The Google TV gives you a list of programs available through your cable provider, satellite dish, or terrestrial signal. It then gives you a list of places where you can find those programs you missed, either streaming from free or paid sources. Mostly it just gives you paid sources, because the US TV market has intentionally blocked playback of most network programs on Google TV. PBS is the notable exception. There’s also no Hulu player for Google TV as of this review.
There are ways around the TV streaming and Hulu issues, but it requires an extra computer to act as a server. Just think of this as your more expensive and slightly smarter Roku-like player that can also tell you what’s on TV and play apps.
The original Sony Google TV came as either an integrated TV or as a set top box with a Blu-ray player. The NSZ-GS7 is a set top player without a Blu-ray player. The starting price went from $399 and up to a far more reasonable $199 with the NSZ-GS7. You don’t get a TV with the deal, but you do get an external IR blaster for controlling other devices (take the blaster and put it near your other device’s sensor, and it solves the line-of-sight probem of old fashioned IR remotes). The NSZ-GS7 also supports HDMI-CEC for controlling other devices. You can use HDMI pass-through for your cable box, so if you’re using an HDMI-CEC compatible device, that saves the fiddling you need to do with an IR blaster. There’s also a digital optical audio and support for either Ethernet or wireless Internet. The device sports USB ports for external storage. The NSZ-GS7 is also capable of 3D output, if you’re into that sort of thing. I don’t have any 3D capable devices, so I did not test this feature.
Because it’s a Sony, you also have access to Sony Video Unlimited and Music Unlimited along with the usual Google TV software offerings. Because it’s no longer a Blu-ray player, the NSZ-GS7 takes up less space and is now just slightly bigger than an Apple TV (and twice the price.)
The NSZ-GS7 supports both PCM and Dolby Digital audio, and it sounded fine on my 7.1 home theater setup playing Netflix and Amazon on Demand movies. The Marvell chip powering the NSZ-GS7 seemed adequate to the task. The device was responsive and fairly zippy, unlike the Logitech Revue, which had a nasty tendency to crash. The device runs on Android’s Google TV 3.2 platform, which is still behind tablets and phones in terms of sophistication but a huge improvement over the original Google TV platform introduced two years ago.
You really can’t discuss the Sony NSZ-GS7 without discussing the much improved remote. Sony’s original remote resembled a Playstation joystick with a keyboard slapped on it. It really didn’t seem like a TV controlling device.
The Sony NSZ-GS7 is a big improvement. The new player has a flat, programmable, universal remote with all the cumbersome multiple interface controls Google still insists on cramming into Google TV tucked on both sides. The remote has a sensor to tell which direction you’re holding it, so flip it one way for the keyboard and flip it the other for track pad and (slightly) simplified remote features. The sensor prevents you from accidentally hitting keys on the bottom side of the remote while you control it on the top. The remote could potentially also be programmed for game use like a Sony Playstation remote, should programmers ever choose to do so.
The Bottom Line
I used to think the Google TV would be the hottest thing since sliced bread. Two years and very slow development later, and I’m not so sure. The Sony NSZ-GS7 is a very solid offering as far as Google TV goes, but Google TV just isn’t for everyone yet. The Roku is half the price if all you’re looking for is an easy to use Internet-streaming device. I’d recommend the Sony NSZ-GS7 for people who want a companion device and still haven’t completely committed to cutting the cable cord or for people with a sophisticated home theater system that want a streamer with a universal remote.